#traveltuesday – Latest school shooting hit a personal note

Back in 2013, in the months before cancer took over my life, I was able to help give many teenagers the gift of travel.

Not only that, I was able to help give them the gift of a second home. As someone who has different “homes” all over the world, that is something that stays with you forever.

I worked for a high school student exchange organization for the summer and into the school year. I met hundreds of students over those few months. I genuinely enjoyed spending time with them, learning about their countries, cultures, motivations for studying abroad and life goals. My short time in NYC was wonderful but also filled with the trials of a nonprofit wage earner in one of the most expensive cities in the world. But the endless bowls of beans and rice, the 45-minute walks to avoid taking $2.50 off my MTA card, the nervousness of checking my bank account before rent was due – the kids I met made it worth it.

And the most impressive students I met were the YES students. Established after 9/11, it is a State Department program to give promising students from countries with a significant Muslim population a chance to study in the USA for a school year. Not only were these kids leaving their country for a year, most had never had a chance to travel before. So many adjustments – culture, food, holidays, transatlantic flights as well as sometimes things we take for granted like escalators and microwaves. How overwhelming it must be for a kid. And then on top of that, for Muslim students there was the fear of being judged by their classmates as a terrorist.

Wouldn’t it be ironic then, if one of the students who came here as part of a program to allay US fears of terrorism, became a victim of terrorism themselves?

Not suicide bomb, jihadist terrorism that many Americans are so afraid of. But white, male disgruntled misfit terrorism.

Sabika Sheikh did not do her study abroad through my former employer, but I still remember the faces of the YES students I sent on to their host families and “second homes” – innocently, naively, never thinking that they might not return at the end of the year. I see her among them.

But as the mission of the YES program was founded on, we want Americans to not see Muslims as terrorists. To see that it is only a small minority committing these hideous acts and to see that most are utterly appalled.

I hope the same will be true for us Americans. That despite this tragedy, we will not be stereotyped as gun-toting nutjobs. That the great majority is devestated by what happened in Texas and many want change and are continuously saddened that change has not happened.

I will continue to encourage people, in the face of this tragedy, to travel and explore different cultures as much as they can. I will continue to hope that I can someday bring my nieces and nephews over here from Morocco for study. The words from Sabika’s host parents fill me with sorrow but also reaffirm that most people in this big, beautiful world are good.

Sabika and her host family opened up new worlds for each other. That is one good thing to come out of this tragedy and her legacy will live on in the hearts of the people she taught and changed in her short life.

#traveltuesday – Latest school shooting hit a personal note

#truckingtuesday – The myths of lot lizards, speed and serial killers

I’m a bit of a crime buff. My favorite TV show is Law and Order SVU and I also sometimes watch true crime shows. During my brief time living in Queens in 2013, I heard some about about the Long Island Serial Killer and have on and off followed the case since.

Lately I’ve been watching the A&E documentaryThe Killing Seasonin which two filmmakers initially investigate the Long Island killings and then branch out to investigate other murders of sex workers in cities across the country.

It’s compelling, although it feels overstaged, but I found myself cursing the screen as the filmmakers investigate truck stops and truckers, as their investigation revealed the Highway Initiative and the theory of long-haul serial killers.

The filmmakers interview a trucker. He gestures to the woman. ”If you were out here you’d be in trouble. You’re dressed for sex.” (She’s wearing a long, loose dress). He continues “You could be killed, you could be gang-raped. It’s crazy out here.”

I can’t with this BS. I am a woman, and not a hideous-looking one at that, who has walked around truck stops all over the country alone because I’m certainly not going to make my husband chaperone me as I go to do laundry or get something to eat. I’ve walked alone after midnight, I’ve walked alone in shorts and a tank top. The number of times I’ve been menaced or even harassed? Zero. I’ve sat among a group of men in the common room as I’ve worked on my laptop and they watched football. I’ve never heard negative talk about women. And a percentage of trucker drivers ARE women. If male truckers were really raping and killing every woman who crossed their field of vision, there wouldn’t be any women in the profession.

Also, the filmmakers claimed they hitchhiked around the country in the cabs of truckers. There’s footage of the, climbing into various trucks. More BS. There’s a little thing called insurance. Truck drivers have to pay for insurance on anyone they take in their truck. If a driver has unauthorized passengers in their truck, they could lose their job. Who would take that risk for a pair of filmmakers who want to paint them and their industry in a bad light?

My verdict? Lots of staged footage. These filmmakers are not above doing a little creative staging to make things more dramatic. And the hard-working men of an already misunderstood profession become more misunderstood.

And I admit I brought into the stereotypes when Younes first got interested in trucking. I feared he would be surrounded by bad influences urging him to cheat or do drugs. Joining Trucking Truth squashed that fear. These men and women just want a good-paying job where they can support their family without having to go back to school and accumulate a bunch of student loan debt. Then, when I decided to travel with Younes, I looked forward to sightseeing all the natural wonders of the country on his time off. Nope. Truckers work HARD. There’s the endless hours of driving, but there’s also the paperwork, the dealing with shippers and receivers, the truck inspections, the huge list of chores that need to be done when the wheels aren’t turning and the driver isn’t getting paid. There’s no time to sightsee. There’s no time to solicit sex workers and/or kill them. There’s barely time to eat and shower!

After the filmmakers had interviewed truckers, they were drawn back east because of a case where a sex worker had killed a client who was trying to murder her. The guy was suspected of killing women in other states. But was this “long haul” suspected serial killer a truck driver? Nope. He was just a transient monster.

Sex trafficking across the state borders is certainly a huge problem. But guess who is on the front lines blowing the whistle on that? Yep. Truck drivers.

#truckingtuesday – The myths of lot lizards, speed and serial killers

#metsmonday – A request for a favor

I turned 33 today. I was 28 when I was diagnosed with what I only knew was an aggressive and late-stage breast cancer. Scared, in the doctor’s office, I wondered if I’d live to reach 30.

But that wasn’t my only worry. Shakily, I squeaked out, “will I still be able to have kids?”

In my very rudimentary understanding of breast cancer in young women, I knew that many breast cancers were linked to hormones and that patients would have to take a hormone-reducing pill for at least five years.

At only two years into a new relationship, you’d think kids wouldn’t be at the forefront of my mind. But I had decided I wanted to be a mother when I was 14 years old. Of course, it wasn’t a good idea to DO anything about that desire at 14, and as I moved through my college and immediate post-college years of not dating anyone seriously and being a global vagabond, I figured I had plenty of time. After all, my mom had had me at 35 and most of my friends were waiting on kids.

But when I got the diagnosed, the clock started ticking. Would I be able to freeze eggs before treatment? Would my boyfriend stay with me? Would my cancer be hormone positive or negative? Would I live long enough that any of those questions would even matter?

The boyfriend married me a few months later. I was expected to survive for a good long time. My cancer did turn out to be hormone positive and that and the aggressiveness led my oncologist to veto egg freezing. Without backup eggs frozen, my focus became getting and staying in remission so I could take a break from my hormone therapy and get pregnant.

Well, as the saying goes, THAT, didn’t work. A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer meant that I would continue on hormone-blocking therapy for life, and that pregnancy would be an enormous hazard to my health. Plus, a Stage IV diagnosis would render me an unsuitable adoptive parent.

Enter Trish. Trish, in the same situation as me down to the brain mets, hormone positive cancer and not having time to preserve eggs at initial diagnosis, had had a beautiful baby through egg donation and surrogacy. And as luck would have it, she was part of my Hear My Voice class of 2017. I got to know her (and eventually her precious Grayson) and admire her greatly as I found my voice as an advocate for alternative family building for cancer patients. Now I want to amplify her voice.

Since Trish and her husband Greg decided to have a child through surrogacy years ago, they have been videotaping their journey. The rawest, most personal moments of both MBC and having a baby have been documented through a camera lenses. And now their documentary, Love Always, Mom, is about to make it’s debut at the Bentonville Film Festival. The goal of the film is to raise knowledge of both MBC and the issues a cancer diagnosis brings to having a family, and also to raise money for metastatic breast cancer research (benefiting organizations like Metavivor).

For my birthday, I want to ask you for your help for Trish to make a successful debut. This documentary is about hope, about infertility and MBC. It is to bring the threads of womanhood, of incurable illness and living life in three-month increments together. And ultimately it is to bring the funds needed to research – the research needed for moms (and dads, men get breast cancer too) to live long enough and with enough quality of life to have their babies and see those babies grow up. That’s all we want.

Trish’s goals with this project

Sweet Grayson gives me hope

Happy family

The love between them melts my heart

#metsmonday – A request for a favor